Stronger Together

by | Jan 11, 2024 | Education, Kids

At seven Topsail-area schools, Operation Military Kids Club provides a place for children in military families to connect with one another.

Connection and encouragement are at the heart of the Operation Military Kids Club (OMKC). Now in place throughout Pender County schools, the club has grown from 60 kids in 2016 to more than 400 kids in the past school year.

OMKC was launched by Stacie Holmes, a Navy veteran and wife of a Navy reservist, out of an understanding of what it is like to be in a military family and to need that sense of connection with other military families. Through OMKC, children find a fun, safe place to be strengthened and encouraged and to meet other military kids who are experiencing many of the same things.

Surf City Elementary OMKC

“The idea began as simply something to do for the military kids at North Topsail Elementary,” Holmes explains. She had been volunteering at the school and decided to ask the principal if they could do something for the children of military families, spurred on by a recognition of the Month of the Military Child, which falls in April. Holmes and other volunteers organized a parade, produced posters and hosted a magic show, which 50 children attended.

Seeing the response that one month of recognition brought to both the children and volunteers, the school’s assistant principal agreed to support the idea. “I asked the principal if we could have a club that met once a month starting in the fall, in September 2016,” Holmes says. The OMKC has grown tremendously since then, with clubs open to more kids in more schools.

OMKC was approved as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 2017.

That same year, it expanded into Topsail Middle School on behalf of the rising 6th graders, Holmes says. At the beginning of the 2017 school year, the club had doubled in size to 120 students. Today, the club is active at Topsail High School, Topsail Middle School, Surf City Middle School and South Topsail, Topsail Annandale, North Topsail and Surf City elementary schools.

Operation Military Kids Topsail NC

Once a month, the students participate in a club meeting that includes snack time, recreation time and a time for learning more about each other and the world around them. Themes for the meetings have included branches of the military, places throughout the world where kids have lived as well as monuments and places of interest in other locations such as Washington, D.C. While themes have been interesting for the kids, Holmes says, “It wasn’t the theme, it was bringing them together” that has made the difference for each participant.

Volunteers are essential to organizing and running the clubs.

Holmes explains that each school has an OMKC director and a sponsor teacher. In schools with larger numbers of kids participating, the groups are divided according to age. “During the meetings we have snacks, celebrate birthdays, play games and do service projects,” Holmes says.

Kids register for the club through the OMKC website. Anyone with a connection to the military, whether through a parent or even another relative like an aunt or uncle, is invited to be part of the club. Meetings are typically held on the third Friday of each month.

Topsail Middle School OMKC

OMKC still celebrates April as the Month of the Military Child by putting stars out in front of each school recognizing the military kids at that school. They also host a big party, Freedom Family Fest, at Kiwanis Park in April each year.

The schools are also getting more involved.

Many of the schools are becoming certified for the Purple Star designation, which is awarded to schools that demonstrate military-friendly practices and a commitment to military students and families.

Community support has been tremendous as well. Burney’s Sweets & More provides all the cupcakes for the club’s birthday celebrations, including accommodating special dietary needs for each child. Mission BBQ donated 200 meals for the April 2023 Freedom Family Fest.

OMKC at Topsail Annandale Elementary

Holmes credits all the volunteers for the club’s growth and success, especially Leslie Carano, who helped her start the club and who now serves as a school director and board secretary for OMKC. Volunteers can be parents, members of the community and even former club members. All volunteers are screened through Pender County Schools.

“We provide kids with an encouraging place,” Holmes says. “The benefit of being together is to realize you’re not alone.”

Join the club:
To register kids for the club, visit operationmilitarykidsclubs.com, call (910) 270-9465 or ask at your child’s school.

Photography by Stacie Holmes

About the author

Pat Fontana

Pat Fontana

I am a business writer and communications workshop leader. My business, WordsWorking, and my recently published book, Talk to Me Like I’m a Human, focus on improving workplace communications, concentrating on the fundamentals of human interactions. I developed, write about and train on the concept of REAL Communications, encouraging others to communicate with Respect and Empathy, paying close Attention and Listening with intent. I can be reached at pat@words-working.net.